Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bankruptcy, Thailand

So after two packed flights, an eight hour layover in Bangkok and endless rides on three Tokyo train lines, my husband and I are finally back at our apartment. There wasn't an eviction notice on the door, and for that I am grateful. While were on vacation, Nova officially declared bankruptcy and now the government is busy searching for sponsors, i.e. buyers, leaving the former Japanese staff and foreign teachers with nothing to do but wait and hope for reimbursement of wages and/or the company to revive under new management. As my husband and I have literally no money to live on, we'll probably be returning to America in the next week or two and that's fine. We've been in Japan going on nine months and are content to come home early to our cats and American TV and native English and blending easily in a crowd and to not being gaijin. We won't have jobs, cars or a place to live that doesn't involve my husband's parents, but that's more or less true of our situation in Japan anyway.

Thailand was good, but it rained every single day. We didn't see the unclouded sun once on our vacation. However, we still got decent tans and were able to enjoy the beach and other outdoor activities between downpours. My favorite activity was probably the snorkeling/sight seeing trip around islands thirty miles off the coast of Thailand. If you've seen the new King Kong movie, the islands kind of looked like that, complete with soaring cliffs, thick tropical forests and monkeys. It rained practically all day and a few of the people in our group were determined to be miserable, but I really enjoyed the exoticness of it.

Another memorable activity was the ping pong show. Although ping pong ball ejection was the least impressive talent demonstrated that night. I didn't believe such things truly existed, but they do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tales From Impending Bankruptcy

We didn't get paid. How not surprising. There's been no new fax or scheduled pay date. The regional manager did tour the various branches on the local line and spin tales of savior investors and/or business deals. Deals that will allegedly transpire if we can just hold out a little longer. I can't say I have believe him. I'm beyond cynical.

Here is food our branch manager's boyfriend bought us because he knows we haven't been paid and can't afford to eat well.

Here is the schedule for tomorrow. For some reason, I'm still on the schedule even though the staff knows I won't be coming. Some poor Help teacher is going to get five kids classes in a row. Eeek! My branch could easily keep four to five teachers busy on a weekend, but this week there will be only one teacher. If they're lucky.

I can't wait to go to Thailand. Only three more days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'll Be Home For Christmas (or Thanksgiving)?

Nearly a month ago, I wrote a post detailing the massive problems my employer Nova is facing and the possibility that my husband and I might be returning to the United States earlier than expected. Well, nothing has changed and if fact the situation is even worse. I am fairly confident that we'll be back in the States next month.

Last month teacher trainers, teachers outside greater Tokyo/Osaka and Japanese staff members were paid, at minimum, 10 days late. After everyone was finally paid the CEO sent a fax saying the dark clouds were finally lifting, that there would be no salary concerns in October and that everyone should concentrate on business as usual.

Flash forward to October. Surprise, surprise there ARE salary concerns. Big ones. With the exception of a few Japanese part-timers, Nova has been unable to pay anyone. That's thousands of people, from foreign instructors and central personnel to Japanese staff members. The Japanese staff was supposed to be paid on September 27th, foreign instructors on October 15th. Everyone is now "scheduled" to be paid on Friday, October 19th. I have no idea how a company that is unable to pay rent and garbage bills at some branches is going to find such a massive amount of money in four days. And then Japanese staff is due to be paid again on October 27th, eight days later!

Almost no one expects to be paid on Friday, and when they aren't a ridiculous amount of instructors will call in sick and/or resign. A huge number of instructors and top executive types resigned after the last salary fiasco and even more are bailing now. In September my branch had seven teachers and now we only have three which is not enough to cover the demand. There isn't even the hope of bringing in fresh meat. The Australian consulate announced that Nova is going under and urged Australians to make contingency plans. A Nova recruiting agency in America told new recruits they could no longer secure housing and urged them to delay their departure until at least December. An Australian agency that has recruited for Nova for years refuses to do so anymore. Meanwhile, instructors all over the country are getting eviction notices because Nova took money from their paychecks but didn't pass it on to the landlords. I can't imagine a more dismal situation.

Nova has made some kind of strange, seemingly shady deal with a couple of offshore companies that I don't understand enough to explain, but it's of little comfort to most employees. The guy who was assumed to have made the deal for Nova has recently been arrested for stock fraud. Even if the deal did result in a significant cash injection, the earliest this injection could arrive would be October 25th and I think it may be too late for Nova by then. Seeing as more and more people are being paid late each month, despite company promises to the contrary, I think most teachers will find another job or go home. My husband and I certainly can't afford to stay in Japan without regular paychecks. Last month, we transferred a bunch of money home to pay off my credit card and to pay for our upcoming Thailand vacation and I now have literally 578 yen to my name. Seriously. We'll be living off our American funds until our next check, assuming it ever arrives. I have my doubts.

Sadly, many students seem completely unaware of the dire situation and my branch even had a sales visitor the other day. We're technically forbidden from saying anything, but I feel obligated to be honest with students if they ask. I haven't discussed it in class or anything, though I sometimes feel I should. They stand to lose hundreds, if not thousands of dollars if/when Nova goes under.

My husband and I plan to go into work on Thursday and Friday, but if we're not paid on Friday I doubt we'll work on the weekend. I feel guilty because that means the staff will have to cancel several classes and spend all day apologizing, especially as there is the possibility that no teachers will show up at my branch, but I am not comfortable working for one month's check when I haven't even been paid for the last and there is a real possibility I won't ever see another yen. That and my train pass has expired, I haven't been reimbursed for last month's pass, I don't have the money to renew it and I don't want to pay 600 yen a day to get to work and back.

If you were me would you go?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Japanese Sensory Delights

Below are just a few of the memorable, sensory delights that Japan has to offer....


Nothing says class and sophistication like boxes of cigarettes bobbing in an aquarium.

When being brown just isn't enough.

Girls for sale

Get little Kenichiro his very own Sheep Animal Girls plaything! Available in your local toy department.


You scream, I scream, we all scream at the shark and snake flavored ice cream!

The ice cream man never sold flavors quite like this.

A burger just isn't a burger unless it oozes black sludge.

And a pizza just isn't a pizza unless it has 75 ingredients.

Open container my ass!

Who doesn't want to eat Hello Kitty's plump, juicy wieners?

After all, she's got your back.


Sweet Smell Aroma Fashion. I wouldn't have my aroma fashion any other way!


There is no sound like the sound of drunk Japanese guys singing J-pop classics.

Who the hell needs arms and legs?

Because sometimes you really need to harass somebody!

Monday, October 1, 2007


Japan is internationally known for its bizarre crazes, but few people outside The Land of the Rising Sun have heard of the kancho. According to Wikipedia, kancho is "the act of clasping the hands together so the index fingers are pointing out and attempting to insert them sharply into someone's anal region when the victim is not looking." Yes, you read that correctly...

(Photo lifted from

The kancho is performed almost exclusively by Japanese school boys, who apparently think it's hilarious and not at all homoerotic. In Japan, the kancho is viewed as a harmless, childish prank and thankfully one doesn't see adult men and women kanchoing each other in public, unless it's drunken foreigners mocking the tradition. I must admit, I have (lovingly) kanchoed my husband on an escalator a few times.

While the kancho is not as popular as it once was, instructors must be on guard at all times while teaching kids' classes. I have not personally experienced the sting of the kancho, but my trainer fell prey one fateful afternoon and felt violated for hours afterwards. When pressed for details, i.e. how hard and how deep, he refused to discuss the experience. The man seemed truly traumatized. A ten-year-old boy once tried to kancho my husband, but was not successful, so the boy kanchoed another student and the two then tried to grab each other's balls for the rest of the class period.

There are some things about Japan that I will never understand.

In the West, we have the wedgie, in the East they have the kancho. I personally, would much rather have underwear shoved up my crack than someone's fingers, but that's just me. Which do you think is worse? What would you do if a child unexpectedly kanchoed you? Discuss...